So, bowl game aside (hopefully something around New Years against an SEC opponent) season is over.
I saw 2-4 losses coming in conference play this year, and looking back I think 9-3 is something the team should be proud of. Simply put, not a lot of pretty wins this year (and all three losses ugly in their own way) but they ground their way impressively at times through a brutal schedule in a new conference.
No Roy Helu + Martinez never looking quite healthy enough to have that extra gear that broke so many runs last year = an offense that was never close to as explosive as last year. The O was defined by Rex Burkhead, who carried the team on his back in almost all their conference wins. I love love love Rex, but I do hope they work the young guys (Abdullah, Green, Heard) in more next year, as their speed could bring back that score-from-anywhere-on-the-field element we were missing.
Martinez, despite losing the explosiveness, was much improved. I've never been as down on him as some Husker fans seem to get, and he really showed growth as a passer. Yes, the motion is godawful to look at, but his arm really carried the offense in several games. I truly think in the last couple years of his career here he'll continue to develop as more of a dual threat and become one one of the top QBs in the conference.
The defense in all three areas was a big step down from last year. The injuries on d-line in particular left us by the end of the season with poor run defense and zero pass rush outside blitzing. On the positive side, Dennard and David both looked like top 5 players in the nation at their respective positions. I think David, despite only being here 2 seasons, will be remembered as one of the best LBs to ever wear the scarlet and cream. For the Ohio St game alone he should be beloved.
So, most the year we were in the awkward spot of a grind-it-out offense being the stronger unit. Thus our best games were over fast and featured little scoring by either side (not unlike Denver!). The defense obviously has some ability - they showed they could absolutely shut down a non-mobile pocket passing offense. Even a pretty good one like Michigan St, who they nearly shut out. But, dear god, athletic QBs ate them alive. We should 1) be thankful we weren't in the Big XII this year and 2) be more than a little squeamish of what that D will look like next year with the best 3 athletes removed (Crick, David, Dennard).
I hold out hope that the secondary can continue its tentative progress. The d-line might be okay as well once they get healthy. LB...I just don't see any speed out there. Pelini has earned his reputation, but he'll need to get something out of young guys we haven't seen yet to have a rebound year in 2012 for the Blackshirts.
If you look at the first couple years of recruiting he had, they weren't all that great and I think that is catching up with us right now. That said, we showed we can hang with the top talent in the Big Ten like Ohio St, Michigan St (and I'd add Wisconsin next year when they lose Wilson). Pelini figuring a way to slow the bleeding against mobile QBs will be the key to taking the next step.